Brief Summary

Criminal, Civil, and Social Justice

This chapter explores the differences between American civil and criminal justice systems and how the ideals of social justice impact each of these systems. While the criminal justice system focuses on justice for society and civil justice takes the perspective of compensating for harm to individuals, social justice is based on the ideals of fairness and equality. Both civil and social justice may have impacts upon, or be related to, the criminal justice system.   

Justice and American Values

Laws and criminal justice policies are often shaped by the political culture and documents of a nation. For example, American values of liberty and equality are promoted in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and are likewise incorporated into our criminal justice system and other major social institutions.  Public belief and support in the government's ability to ensure these values then legitimizes the operation of an effective criminal justice system, which attempts to balance liberty with law-abiding behavior.

The Development of Criminal Justice Policy

The chapter further explores the various influences that lead to the development of criminal justice policy.  Through federalsim, laws may vary among states and between state and federal governments.  While states are given the responsibility to define and address their own problems, when conflicts arise between state and federal laws, federal law reigns under the National Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.   Other forces that influence the definition and creation of laws include perceptions of what crime issues need to be addressed, the news media, interest groups, and bureaucrats.  When a strategy is implemented to reduce crime, these same groups may judge the value of the policy in effectively reducing crime. While the effectiveness of a strategy may legitimize certain policies, the lack of public, political, and financial support can lead to the demise of other policies.

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